A miracle cream? Baths of olive oil? Surgery? No, the secret to a longer life is none of these things. It is more simple, more integral. To live longer, it appears you need to have longer telomeres.
There’s really not much complexity to it. To lengthen your telomeres, it seems that all it takes is a healthy lifestyle: moderate exercise, low stress, and a natural diet devoid of overly processed foods and instead filled with healthy fats, proteins, and plenty of produce. Kind of a no-brainer, I know. Healthy lifestyle equals less disease, which equals longer life. But the role telomeres play in this process is potentially key.
For those who are a little rusty on cellular biology, telomeres are essentially chromosome covers; they keep our genetic material from unraveling and becoming damaged. Since they protect the master plan at the heart of each and every one of our cells, telomeres are an extremely important indicator of overall health and expected lifespan.
Generally, as we age, our telomeres grow shorter and shorter. It is hotly debated whether the shortening of telomeres are at the root cause of aging and degeneration, or if aging and diminishing health is what leads to shorter telomeres. Regardless, as age increases, telomere length appears to shorten. Curiously, when centenarians were compared to 85 year-olds in a study, the centenarians were found to actually have longer telomeres. But they are older, so shouldn’t their telomeres be shorter? Apparently, since centenarians have lived far beyond the average human lifespan, their unusual telomere length appears to be associated with longevity and healthiness.
These incredible results have be applied to people of all ages. In a recent study, a small group of men adopted a this generally healthy lifestyle — meditation, moderate exercise, yoga, and a low-fat, low-inflammation diet– while the other group changed nothing. Over the course of a 5 year period, the health-minded men actually had a 10 percent increase in telomere length and a far reduced risk of disease, whereas the normal group suffered 3 percent shortening without any benefits. But, luckily for the less health-minded group, it appears as though conscious lifestyle changes can actually reverse any shortening of the telomeres, providing hope that it is never too late for anyone to get healthy.
However, the question remains, do your telomeres lengthen because you’re healthy, or are you healthy and disease-free because you have long telomeres? While the scientists go argue about that one, you can find me and my telomeres doing some yoga and snacking on kale.